Thursday, December 05, 2013

Blewett Dissents

Judge Merritt's Blewett dissent:

* Restoring fairness and enforcing a "no-change" sentencing policy based on "finality" are incongruous.  Congress intended to remedy irrationality and disproportion.  Court is thwarting this effort. 
* Cites NACDL and NAACP amicus briefs. 
* "Practically all observers" now recognize the ills of the old system. 

Judge Cole's dissent:

* Applying 100-to-1 ratio and mandatory minimums to deny 3582(c)(2) relief violates equal-protection principles. 
* African-Americans treated more harshly than Caucasian offenders under this regime.  And  88% of the inmates that would be eligible for a reduction if mand mins not a bar are African-American. 
* Claim of "finality" cannot withstand even rational-basis scrutiny under equal-protection principles.
* "Finality " not a bar to other 3582(c)(2) resentencings.  Irrational to allow sentence to be lowered in one case and not the other. . . .
* Quotes Judge Nathaniel Jones: "As judges, we should no longer remain wedded to that which experience shows is neither rational nor fair." 

Judge Clay's dissent:

* Majority is furthering prior injustice by holding that the FSA is not retro.  Individuals like Blewetts will continue to be imprisoned "in a disproportionate, unjustified manner, in violation of their rights under the Equal Protection Clause." 
* Not sure of procedural mechanism for relief
* "Although the FSA is not facially discriminatory, an interpretation of the FSA foreclosing the retroactive application of its new mandatory minimums would present an equal protection problem inasmuch as it would subject a group that is overwhelmingly predominately African American to starkly different treatment under the law.  Such an interpretation can meet neither strict scrutiny nor rational basis review and should therefore be avoided by this Court."
* "Adopting new mandatory minimums for the purpose of righting the racially discriminatory wrongs of the past and not extending the benefits of the new enactment to the thousands of predominately African American individuals serving disproportionate sentences under a now-rejected statue violates equal protection because Congress has recognized and reaffirmed 'its adverse effects' upon the African American community."
* Congress has distinguished crack and powder offenders, "the former being overwhelmingly impoverished African Americans."  This group---crack offenders---is exceedingly "abject, disparaged, powerless," a minority group that may be the most powerless.  Here the democratic process "breaks down" and "traditional rational basis review is insufficient to protect the group of individuals convicted under federal crack cocaine mandatory minimums."  More than 82% of this group is African-American (2005 stat).  The courts should not defer "to government enactments under circumstances where an irrational classification based on the form of cocaine, which has real-world consequences in terms of sentencing disparities, tracks so closely with race."  No legitimate penological/pharmacological reason for the continued incarceration of inmates who were subjected to extended sentences under the repudiated 100-to-1 ratio.  In the face of a "more rigorous rational basis standard, the government can only offer finality as its legitimate interest in support of the continued application of the old mandatory minimums."  Won't cut it. 

Judge Rogers's dissent:

* Finds that "Dorsey supports the idea that, when a post-Fair Sentencing Act sentence is properly calculated under 3582(c)(2) because a guideline has been retroactively changed, the new statutory minimums should be applied as well.  In other words, when a post-Fair Sentencing Act sentencing court properly has before it the calculation of a sentence, the court should use the Fair Sentencing Act minimums."
* Majority's analysis is anomalous.
* With Dorsey in view, not logical to rely on saving statute's default rule. 
* 3582(c)(2) = Congress's "background principle of retroactivity." 
* Illogical to provide GL relief and not statutory relief. 
* Cites argument re. "worse guys" who were sentenced above GLs getting break while less culpable guys (sentenced at mand min) not getting break. 
* "It may be that the Supreme Court Justices and litigants in Dorsey assumed that the 18-1 minimums could not be applied whenever sentencing occurred prior to the Fair Sentencing Act's passage.  But assumptions are not law.  Likewise the holdings of other circuits, and of our prior three-judge panels, are not binding, however persuasive they may or may not be.  The plain fact is that the language of the Fair Sentencing Act does not require the anomaly that the 18-1 ratio applies retroactively to reduce guideline-driven sentences but not mandatory minimum-driven sentences, when both the guidelines and the minimums were reduced by the Fair Sentencing Act."
* Somewhat distinguishes the adverse law in other circuits.  (Footnote 1.)
* "This analysis does not mean that the Sentencing Commission is trumping the statute.  The revised statutory minimums are, after all, created by statute.  The Sentencing Commission, acting properly under 28 U.S.C. 994(u), made the Fair Sentencing Act-driven guidelines retroactive.  Doing so provided the statutory key to making the statutory minimum changes applicable under 3582.  This is a reasonable statutory interpretation, and it is particularly reasonable to avoid an incoherent anomaly."
* Does agree with majority that constitutional avoidance doesn't apply. 
Judge White's dissent:

* She concurs in Judge Rogers's dissent and writes "separately to express the view that the fair implication of the Fair Sentencing Act is that Congress intended that the Sentencing Commission determine whether and to what extent the newly enacted increased base-cocaine quantity thresholds for triggering mandatory minimum sentences would be applicable to defendants already under sentence.  Further, allowing application of the new 18:1 ratio to all offenders already under sentence except those whose sentences under the new ratio would clash with the old 100:1 ratio's mandatory minimum sentences bears no rational relation to any identified Congressional purpose."
* "It is the majority that turns the Fair Sentencing Act on its head by its rigid adherence to the general savings statute in the face of the Commission's clear authority to establish the new guidelines based on the greater mandatory-minimum thresholds and to decide whether and to what extent the new thresholds should be applied to prisoners under sentence."
* She addresses several arguments regarding the Commission's powers. 
* "The Blewetts's claim does not rest on an asserted constitutional right to the retroactive application of the Fair Sentencing Act.  It rests on the irrationality of allowing its application to all sentences that have become final and are affected by the new guidelines except sentences based on the very mandatory minimum levels that the Fair Sentencing Act amended.  Congress did not intend this irrationality, and that is why Judge Rogers is correct.  Nevertheless, if Congress is understood to have the intent ascribed to it by the majority, that intent is irrational and violates the  Equal Protection Clause absent rational justification other than finality."

 


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